Written By: - Date published: 9:21 am, September 16th, 2018 - 77 comments
Categories: articles, class, Deep stuff, education, journalism, labour, Media, newspapers, Politics, Social issues, tertiary education - Tags: kirsty johnston
I know here at the Standard we often chip at the Herald. Any publication that regularly promotes Mike Hosking deserves it.
But occasionally the Herald produces outstanding journalism. And when it does we should acknowledge this and praise the Herald.
It has some outstanding writers. Brian Rudman is an old favourite of mine. Matt Nippert and Simon Wilson regularly produce great work. David Fisher is always sharp.
John Roughan occasionally, very occasionally, produces work that I can agree with.
Fran O’Sullivan has a right wing view but it is an intellectually informed view.
And to their ranks we should add the name of Kirsty Johnston.
She has produced this outstanding jaw dropping article on how poor kids are not becoming professionals in the weekend Herald. This is the quality of article that should make us all reflect and cause the Government to change course.
“The silence is deafening”… I’ve spent 4 years writing about education and poverty and feeling like I was shouting in to a void. This piece attempts to address why NZ just doesn’t want to know about it, and why we really, really should https://t.co/K3iNCiFvFh
— Kirsty Johnston (@kirsty_johnston) September 14, 2018
Because basically we are ensuring that our professions are middle and upper class enclaves and devoid of working class and poor kids. A society where you can rise through the ranks because of your ability and not because of your class? Forget it.
Here is her conclusion:
Data shows just 6 per cent of those accepted into the elite university courses of law, medicine and engineering come from our most disadvantaged homes. Meanwhile, more than half the entrants are from families on the top three tiers of the income ladder. In simple terms, poor are outnumbered by the rich 10 to one.
This is the new New Zealand, once touted as a great egalitarian state, but now a place where the circumstances of birth and family are so strong they are almost impossible to overcome. Data shows New Zealand is now more unequal than the countries its 19th century founders fled, the eighth worst in the OECD according to the Gini inequality measure. Despite the settlers’ desire to throw off the rigid structures of their former lives, in less than 200 years their “classless” society has stratified into rich, middle and poor, with property ownership a driving force.
And the detail:
Achievement gaps between rich and poor are evident throughout the school system, and grow wider as students age. For example, while at NCEA Level 2 there is a 7 percentage point lag between the pass rates of the most and least deprived, by the time students attempt Level 3, it’s 18 points. Four times as many rich students gain University Entrance as poor students. And while 50 per cent of students from the high decile schools go on to university, only 17 per cent from the low deciles make it in.
Where the ultimate advantage plays out, however, is in the university courses with limited numbers and high entry thresholds – degrees which also lead to the highest salaries. Data sourced from six universities shows while 60 perc ent of the almost 16,000 students accepted into law, medicine and engineering in the past five years came from the richest third of homes, just 6 per cent came from the poorest third.
The further down the income ladder you go, the more desperate the figures become. If you only include those from decile one schools, the most disadvantaged, the figure drops to just 1 per cent.
Most programmes accepted only a handful of students from decile one schools each year, and sometimes none. For example, Auckland University’s medical school took 12 decile one students out of 1160 total admissions to its second-year course. Victoria law school took eight of 1400. Otago law took three, of 1180. And Canterbury engineering took one, of more than 2000.
Quick reminder, in a perfect world where talent and not wealth was the only determinant each decile would contribute 10% of the total intake.
And the consequences?
Studies overseas have found that even where poor students have high test scores, they are less likely to go university than their rich peers with lower marks. More important than intelligence is the ability to capitalise on intelligence. Those with wealth are able to cluster together in the best neighbourhoods and and fill up the best schools. They can afford extra tuition and nutritious food and to give their children their own rooms and desks. They go on to get the best jobs.
In New Zealand, the exclusion of the poor is epitomised by prohibitive property prices in “top” school zones, and in the white flight from low-decile schools. Just like elsewhere, our poorest students end up segregated in smaller schools with fewer resources, bearing the burden of concentrated disadvantage – more students who are cold and hungry and stressed.
Unlike elsewhere, however, New Zealand has been reluctant to acknowledge the problem as a class issue, a phenomenon wider than the education system, a flow-on effect from the way society is structured as a whole.
Experts say there are several reasons for this. Firstly, they argue New Zealand simply isn’t ready to let go of its founding egalitarian myth – despite evidence that narrative hasn’t been true for a long time – and possibly never was.
Why this is wrong was spelt out in a second article with this quote from Auckland University sociology professor Alan France.
“People think education is a level playing-field but this is showing that’s not the case,” Auckland University sociology professor Alan France said.
“We talk about increasing Māori and Pacific participation at university, but actually the underlying issue is socio-economics. It’s money. It’s class. It’s privilege.”
He said because it was uncomfortable for the middle class to acknowledge they had an inherent advantage over the poor, New Zealand had largely ignored its inequality issues.
However, he warned it did so at its peril. Lack of opportunities for the poor was both morally and socially wrong. With an increasingly diverse society it was important to have professionals who represented society, he said.
These articles made me reflect on my personal path into law.
I was a working class kid from Mangere whose dad was a boilermaker but back then it did not seem to matter so much. In part because thanks to the wages and conditions provided by the Trade Union Movement my parents could afford to own their own home and provide us with the basics and I was able to get a well paid job during the holidays. I had to go without holidays for a while but such is life.
That was back in the 1980s. Clearly things have changed for the worse.
Jobs for young people are now mainly at minimum wages. Both parents have to work now just to pay the rent or to finance loans for the huge amounts that Aucklanders have to pay for ordinary houses. The chance of their kids getting to university is one of the first things to disappear.
This issue is the canary in the mine of class politics. While this reality continues we will continue to have a problem.
Well done Kirsty Johnston. I hope that the Government uses her articles to drive a deep rethink of the current state of Aotearoa New Zealand.